A carer from Sefton described as “selfless”, “devoted”, and “humble” who stuck by her partner’s side after he sustained a traumatic brain injury has been named as a finalist for a national award.
Michelle Kelly, 52, will be recognised at an annual awards ceremony organised by Headway – the brain injury association, as one of just three people from across the UK in the running for the title of Carer of the Year, sponsored by Barr Ellison LLP.
Michelle and her partner Tommy had only been dating for a few years, with their whole lives ahead of them. They had big hopes and dreams together for their future.
But their whirlwind romance came crashing down when Tommy sustained a traumatic brain injury while on a work’s night out in December 2011.
Recalling the tragic event, Michelle said, “Tommy slipped on a patch of ice in the middle of the road and fell to the floor. He was always the joker, so I thought this was another of his practical jokes. I laughed and told him to stop acting the goat and to get up before a car came along.”
Looking back now, Michelle only wishes it had been a joke. Tommy had been seriously injured, hitting his head on the ground with force as he slipped, causing a traumatic brain injury.
“He’d only had a few drinks, so at the hospital, when he was vomiting and slurring his words, I knew something was seriously wrong. He was slipping in and out of consciousness in my arms,” said Michelle.
Tommy underwent an operation to release the pressure on his brain and spent three months in a coma before finally being discharged from hospital a staggering two and a half years later.
Michelle said, “My work mode took over, and I dealt with everything in a very professional way, but behind closed doors, I was a mess. I didn’t even know if he’d survive, so I just took everything hour by hour, like the doctors told me to.”
Overnight, Tommy had gone from being a highly active territorial army volunteer to needing to use a wheelchair and being unable to speak or care for himself. He now also deals with the lasting effects of his brain injury, including language difficulties and fatigue.
Michelle chose to stand by Tommy through thick and thin.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Michelle. “He’s still the same man I fell in love with 11 years ago; he’s just as funny and intelligent as when I first met him. Life changes, and if you don’t accept it, you won’t be able to cope. As soon as Tommy and I accepted our lives had changed, we were just able to get on with things again. We’ve adjusted to a new life.”
Michelle has fought tirelessly to help Tommy regain aspects of his old life, even recruiting two army physicians, Steve Cairns and Si Squires, to try and help him learn how to walk again.
As well as caring for Tommy’s complex needs, Michelle has managed to hold down a full-time job whilst also looking after their respective families and has taken up a voluntary role at local brain injury charity, Headway Sefton.
“Headway Sefton has been there for us from the first day the charity opened its doors,” said Michelle. “We are like one big family, and I’m so grateful for the support network I have through Headway.”
From organising days out, hosting support groups, offering advice and welcoming new members, Michelle says, “If I can help just one person, then I’ll do it.”
Michelle was nominated for Carer of the Year by a fellow volunteer at Headway Sefton, Catherine Johnston.
She said, “Michelle’s is always the first to point out the positives in her life and she should be recognised and heralded for all to see. She’s a shining example of authentic love, and I do hope she gets to enjoy a round of applause!
“Headway Sefton would be lost without Michelle, and God only knows what life would be like for Tommy without her selfless devotion and obvious loving care. If anyone deserves acknowledgement for the example they set to the rest of humanity, then it would be Michelle, every single time.”
Michelle added: “I don’t do it for any other reason than it’s what needs to be done, so I was very surprised to find out I’d been nominated.”
The Carer of the Year, sponsored by Barr Ellison LLP, will be named at a glittering ceremony at The Landmark London on 9 December, along with awards for the Achiever and Volunteer of the Year and the Stephen McAleese Outstanding Contribution to Headway Award.
Image: Tommy and Michelle